We famously live an age of capital, where those who own businesses or other assets are prospering, while most people who rely on the value of their labor are doing terribly.
But to appreciate just how lopsided (and, well, grotesque) things have gotten, consider this factoid: Just four members of the Walton family—Christy, Alice, Jim, and S. Robson)—have a greater net worth than all of Walmart's 1.4 million U.S. workers combined, a labor force that makes up about 1 percent of the U.S. working population. No big surprises here, of course. Those four Waltons—with a combined net worth of over $100 billion—are richer than the bottom third or so all Americans combined.
Imagine how weird it would have been in much earlier times if the owner of the local general store was richer than everybody in town put together. That would have been unseemly to Americans of our distant past. And it would have been more unseemly still if the merchant and his heirs were richer than everyone in the state put together.
Of course, though, large scale modern capitalism long innured us to equally large-scale inequality.
But as many Walmart workers go on strike today, asking for wages high enough to lift them out of poverty, it's worth pausing to consider just what they are asking for: Among other things, they essentially want those four Walton family members—who, together, still own a big chunk of the company—to be satisified with a tad less in shareholder returns.
If shareholders took the main hit from a rise in Walmart wages, those low "everyday prices" could remain basically unchanged.
Although, as Demos showed in our report on retail, shareholders of retail companies might not end up taking a hit anyway, since more highly paid workers would have more money to spend—in places like Walmart. And even if the cost of wage increases are directly passed along to consumers, the rise in prices is still likely to be very minor.
In other words, raising wages at Walmart is no big deal. Certainly not to those four Waltons with $100 billion between them.